NAIROBI, July 1 – The government Tuesday remained adamant that the commissioning of the Sh24 billion Tana Integrated Sugar Project would go on despite objections from several quarters.
Regional Development Authorities Minister Fred Gumo told a media briefing that the project between Mumias Sugar Company and the Tana and Athi River Development Authorities (TARDA) had the full backing of the government as it was beneficial to the local community and that it was not detrimental to the environment.
On Wednesday last week, a conservationist lobby group objected to plans to grow biofuel crops on the Tana River Wetlands, warning that it would damage the fragile ecosystem.
The group argued that the value of farming, fisheries, tourism and other incomes derived from land and wildlife was a whooping Sh3.7 billion compared to the proposed benefits from the sugar farming which would rake in an estimated Sh2.3 billion.
The project is expected to be carried out on a 28,680 hectares (Ha) piece of land, which was initially allocated for rice production in the 1980s.
In 1990, the infrastructure meant for the implementation of the first phase of the Definite Development Plan for the Rice Project was destroyed by the El-Nino rains thus stalling it.
In 2004, a study conducted by TARDA in partnership with the Kenya Sugar Board concluded that the area was ideal for sugar production.
Thus, the Integrated Sugar Project was borne with an objective to ensure domestic self sufficiency in sugar production and creation of employment opportunities among others.
Upon completion, the project is expected to produce one thousand tonnes of sugar per day and Gumo wondered why a country that can’t meet its sugar requirements would want to continue importing the commodity instead of growing it.
He accused sugar dealers of being behind the disquiet and called on them to stop inciting the locals.
The minister restated that residents would not be displaced as the project would be 30 kilometres (Km) away from the Tana delta and outside the wetland zone.
“It is situated in the grassland area of Tana River and covers less than 10 percent of the delta area,” he explained.
“Further, the government has set aside 200,000 acres at Galana Ranch to provide dry period grazing for pastoralists,” he added.
Gumo, however, called on the Tana delta residents to ignore remarks from what he called "lobbyists" who he said were bent on derailing the project to serve their personal interests.
Gumo disclosed that he would be visiting the area next week on a familiarization tour to assure the residents that they would not be displaced once the project, which is to be implemented in phases, commences.
It is expected to take six years.
“I am convinced beyond any doubt that the local people are in full support of the project,” he concluded.
Mumias Sugar is the largest shareholder in the project with a 51 percent stake while TARDA has 30 percent.
Local communities have been allocated 10 percent.